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What percentage of college students graduate with at least one internship?

Steven Rothberg AvatarSteven Rothberg
September 4, 2015


One of my favorite sources of information about all things recruiting is ERE Daily. I know most of the people who have worked there, who currently work there, and I hope to know most of the people who have yet to work there.

Occasionally, however, they publish an article which includes erroneous information. An example was an article about the so-called talent gap between the hard and soft skills offered by college students and recent graduates and those preferred and presented by employers. 

Raghav Singh, director of product management at PeopleFluent, wrote:

Trouble is that an internship is fairly rare experience. Data from NACE — the National Association of Colleges and Employers — shows that in recent years about 1.5 million internships are filled in the United States annually. That means less than 10 percent of college grads get to do an internship. And among internships it’s paid internships that matter. 

Let’s unpack that doozy of a paragraph:

Is it true that only 1.5 million internships are filled in the United States annually? Nope.

The data from NACE is pulled from a poll of its several hundred employer membership base using the inherently flawed convenience sampling technique. There are some 12 million businesses in the U.S. with at least two employees. NACE’s membership is overwhelmingly skewed toward the very unusual employer which has at least 5,000 employees. Their studies are conducted by sending questionnaires to their own members, many and perhaps even most of which don’t respond.

So the population surveyed–if you can call what they do a survey–and the data they collect is even further skewed because they’re not even randomly surveying their non-randomly selected population. What the article essentially says is that a non-random sampling of far fewer than one percent of employers had 1.5 million interns. A far more accurate statement would be that about 75 percent of the more than 21 million post-secondary students graduate with at least one internship. That’s 15.75 million internships, folks.

75% of post-secondary students graduate with at least one internship

Is it true that only 10 percent of college grads get to do an internship? Nope again. The real number is about 7.5 times that at 75 percent.

I know Raghav and, like many in the recruiting world, I have a great deal of respect for him. I sincerely doubt that he intended to mislead any of ERE’s readers. But we all make mistakes and we’re all, at times, suckered into believing statistics which are published by organizations which should be more transparent about their survey methodologies and shortcomings. As my close, personal friend Mark Twain once wrote, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”

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